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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“I still haven’t made up my mind whether I shall publish it all. Some people are so humorless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one’s efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them. Most readers know nothing about canon law. Many regard it with contempt and find everything heavy going that isn’t completely lowbrow. Some are so grimly serious that they disapprove of all humor. Others come to different conclusions every time they stand up or sit down. They seize upon your publications, as a wrestler seizes upon his opponent’s hair, and use them to drag you down, while they themselves remain quite invulnerable, because their barren pates are completely bald, so there’s nothing for you to get hold of.”
— St. Thomas More to Peter Gilles, 1516

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Serious about Sacred Music
published 15 September 2013 by Fr. David Friel

AVE YOU EVER TRIED to figure out if a person is serious about sacred music? When attempting to discern what type of musician the visiting organist or cantor is, I find myself often using that word, “serious,” or even sometimes the phrase, “the work of sacred music.” Those ways of speaking seem to mean something to me. I would consider someone who reads Sacred Music, for instance, to be serious. The octogenarian organist who doesn’t use the pedals—not so much. It’s the difference between a music director interested in the Propers and a music director content to maintain the four-hymn sandwich.

Perhaps I use this type of terminology to discriminate those who are invested in the reform of liturgical music from those who are simply going along with the status quo. “Serious” and “not so serious” seem to be labels I use to categorize the liturgical musicians I know.

There is probably a degree of legitimacy to this type of language. Yet, at the same time, God is not always so staid or categorical. Indeed, there are times when God, Himself, appears not to be all that “serious.” Take this passage from the Book of Proverbs:

Thus says the wisdom of God . . . then was I beside Him as His craftsman, and I was His delight day by day, playing before Him all the while, playing on the surface of His earth; and I found delight in the human race.

Here we see the Lord portrayed as playful. I like that image. We can recognize His playfulness in creation, in Sacred Scripture, and in our prayerful banter.

It makes me wonder if the Lord might challenge my seriousness about the liturgy at times. I’m not suggesting that He wants us all to be unserious about the work of liturgy or of sacred music, but might our seriousness not be well-tempered by healthy appreciation of the playfulness of God?